by Louis Whallon

Dr. Dwight Carlson, a psychiatrist, has written an article in a recent issue of Christianity Today. In his article titled “Exposing the Myth that Christians Should Not Have Emotional Problems,” he warns of a false gospel (“the emotional-health gospel”) in the church. He claims this new false gospel is very similar to the false gospel of “health and wealth” and that it is being promulgated by men like John MacArthur in his book Our Sufficiency in Christ and Dave Hunt in his book Beyond Seduction. By implication his accusation covers an extensive group of Bible believing leaders. Scripture is clear regarding anyone teaching a false gospel. Gal. l: 7,8 says they are to be accursed. This charge of Carlson’s is a very serious one.

His Thesis: Christians shoot their wounded by not being sensitive enough to the emotional problems of fellow believers.

Answer: Christians often fail to love one another as they should. This does not justify questioning the sufficiency of Christ and the promises of the Word of God.

His Thesis: We shoot our wounded because of a “myth” that Christians don’t have emotional problems.

Answer: This is not true. It is a false premise. The accused authors acknowledge that Christians have emotional problems. The issue is what have Christians historically done with those problems, and what should they do with them today?

His Thesis: Building on this “myth” of emotional health for Christians, teachers like Dave Hunt and John MacArthur, who teach that Christ is sufficient and the Word of God is adequate to deal with the deepest personal and emotional needs, promulgate a false gospel similar to the “health and wealth gospel.”

Answer: This is not true. The health and wealth gospel is clearly false because it claims physical health and material wealth when Scripture makes no such promise. However, the Scripture does make clear promises and commands regarding our emotions:

Eph. 4:31 — Put away all wrath, bitterness and malice.
1 Pet. 3:8 — Have compassion and love and be tenderhearted.
Prov. 12:25 — Anxiety causes depression; a good word makes glad.
Phil. 4:6 — Be anxious for nothing.
Phil. 4:7 — The peace of God will guard your heart.
James 1:2 — “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”

His Thesis: The church is only qualified to deal with spiritual matters (salvation, forgiveness, morality, God’s will, etc.) and some emotional problems. The deepest personal and emotional problems should be handled by “professionals.”

Answer: None of the accused would deny that Christians should seek proper medical help for physical needs. If your thyroid is not functioning properly you should go to a doctor.

The professionals the author is speaking of, however, are professionals in psychology. While some are medically trained, they practice “professional advice.” Their designation as “professional” comes from being educated and trained in psychological theories. There are literally hundreds of these theories spawned by men such as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, Skinner, Rogers, Ellis and Bettelheim. They compete with one another, and they do not always agree. Carlson did not indicate which school of thought he favored. He also failed to indicate whether it was important to go to a Christian for Christian professional counseling. Perhaps this is because, unlike Scripture, there is no body of truth called “Christian psychology.” There are only professing Christians practicing their own versions of psychological theories, sometimes using Christian terminology.

The books written by Dave Hunt and others document in great detail the shortcomings of this profession. The proofs offered include the testimonies of secular psychologists that their counsel was no more effective than the advice of a sympathetic friend. Carlson chose not to respond to any of that evidence. If however, as he suggests, we are to turn over Christians with the deepest needs to these “professionals,” we should expect him to provide some scientific evidence (control studies) to show it works. This would also identify exactly which of the various psychological theories he might think are correct.

His Thesis: Underlying the false gospel is the belief that all “negative emotions are sinful” and that a Spirit-filled Christian can’t experience emotional problems. Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon experienced depression. Moses, Elijah, Job and Jeremiah were depressed “often to the point of being suicidal.” The Lord Himself was very distressed in the garden: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38).

Answer: Carlson again puts forth a false premise to build a case for his theories. None of the men he accuses of preaching a false gospel would say that all negative emotions are sinful. The Lord’s agony in the garden was clearly not sinful.

Carlson also improperly uses the term “Spirit-filled Christian” to lend credence to his argument. We Christians are all indwelt by God’s Spirit, but we are not always “filled.” This is a moment by moment reality as we yield to Him (Eph. 5:18-20). Even men greatly used by God are not always filled. When filled however, Gal. 5:22-23 clearly says we will manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our life and our emotions (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance). This condition is in marked contrast to Carlson’s description of himself while in depression, “devastated, sense of doom, desperate, hopeless.”

Since it is Carlson’s primary thesis that Christians need professional help for really deep needs, his choice of men from Scripture is truly extraordinary. In using the Lord, he quotes Him in the Garden as saying, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death.” Is he suggesting that the Lord needed professional counseling for suicidal tendencies?

Carlson also uses Job as an example. He quotes Job as saying, “I hate my life. . . depression haunts my days.” He then declares that Scripture says Job “even with his depression” did not sin. The description of Job as a man who had not sinned occurs in the first chapter. It only requires reading to the end of the book to see the truth. In fact, God counsels Job for four chapters beginning in Chapter 38 through 42. In summary, God says, Job, who do you think you are? Job’s statement about his depression and his response to it is in chapter 42:5-6, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Rather than somehow giving credence to a need for professional help for times of depression, Job’s example argues for the opposite. The Lord was Job’s counselor, and He was adequate to heal him as Job repented.

In all the examples of people in Scripture that Carlson uses, it is the same conclusion. All went to the Lord for the resolution to their particular emotional problem. All were restored and continued with the ministries to which God called them.

His Thesis: Carlson uses his own experience with depression to prove his thesis. He experienced depression brought on by the suicide of a patient. He was “devastated, desperate and hopeless even after additional time in the Word and in prayer,” until he talked with a colleague. He was sure his brain chemistry was affected by this external event and theoretically restored by the counsel he received.

Answer: This account perhaps best frames the issues in this discussion. An otherwise physically healthy man was affected by an external event. This event in life caused him to become so depressed that he was convinced that his “brain chemistry was affected.” The counsel of a colleague cured the depression and corrected the brain chemistry. Carlson offers no scientific evidence for this altering of brain chemistry by an event in life. Nor can there be. How would one measure it? Therefore, the claim of theoretical restoration of brain chemistry through the words of the colleague is pure speculation.

The critical issue for this discussion is apart from brain chemistry. The issue is WHAT WAS THIS COUNSEL of the COLLEAGUE? What is the content of this wisdom that healed? If we knew, we could compare it to what God says about depression and draw some valid conclusions about one’s need for professional counsel and counselors.

Carlson also seems to be saying that he tried more prayer and more Bible, but it didn’t work. This is a strange evaluation of his circumstance from a spiritual perspective.

The solution to a crisis in life for Christians is not only the time they spend in the Word and prayer but their willingness to submit to it. It is not some formula or method of cure, but rather an encounter with the living God. Job had such an encounter.

Comment: If we are to accept Carlson’s thesis, that Christ is not sufficient and the Scriptures are not adequate for the deep personal and emotional needs of Christians, some troubling questions naturally follow:

1. How could God promise us joy in the middle of all life’s circumstances before psychology existed?

2. Did He make demands on our controlling anger or not worrying before He gave us the resources to do it?

3. Do we really believe that persecuted Christians throughout the ages would say the Lord was not adequate?

4. Is “professional help” a viable solution for anyone without money or insurance? Has God left Christians in Africa without a necessary resource?

5. How is the fact that man is created in the image of God, with the immaterial reality of a soul/spirit separated from God by sin, explained in Carlson’s theories? It is difficult to see this Christian truth in his heavy reliance on a person’s chemistry, biology, genes, environment and circumstances of life.

6. What impact does salvation have on a person, his thoughts, motives, behavior and emotions? Is a Christian to approach the circumstances of life any differently than an unsaved person?

7. If professionals are the answer for emotional problems, as Carlson contends, shouldn’t we go to them for a lack of compassion, or too much envy, or excessive lust? Which medication should we take or what counsel will they give?

8. What are we to do with our hymnals? They don’t refer to any need for psychiatry for the deep personal and emotional needs of Christians.

Conclusion: Carlson has made a very serious charge against some respected Christian brothers. His accusations are built upon false premises. He offers no scientific evidence except his personal experiences and a vague statement, “From a research perspective the emerging answer to emotional illness involves. . . .” What research? What is an emerging answer? There are no emerging answers such as he proposes in Scripture. His biblical support is even less compelling. His own examples of men in Scripture not only fail to prove his case, but prove the opposite. Our God was adequate for all of them. He has been adequate for suffering men and women of God throughout the centuries. He is adequate for the church today. We must continue to go to our Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6) with our deepest emotional and personal needs. Who then is preaching the false gospel? I would respectfully submit that Christ is our counselor, the Spirit is our comforter and the Word is our guide. THEY ARE SUFFICIENT!

Relevant Scriptures: If we were to accept Carlson’s thesis, how would we explain these Scriptures and countless others? Each of the following is followed by a question or comment related to his thesis.

Isa. 9:6 — “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Question: But not for deep personal needs and emotions?

2 Cor. 1:3-4 — “. . . the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort . . . who comforteth us in all our tribulation.”
Question: Doesn’t all mean all?

Ps. 55:22 — “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee. . . .” and 1 Pet. 5:7.
Question: Through only the little problems of life?

2 Pet. 1:3 — “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness. . . .”
Question: Does this mean we lack the resources for the issues of life?

Rom. 8:28 — “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Question: Except for that life event that caused my brain chemicals to get out of balance because God must not have been sovereign over it?

2 Cor. 12:9-10 — “. . .My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. . . .”
: This one verse should end the discussion. It is when we are weakest that His grace is most manifest.

2 Tim. 1:7 — “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
: Carlson accuses the “emotional health gospel” of saying that if a Christian repents, prays, and spends adequate time in the Word he will have a sound mind. To him that is absurd. The truth is that Scripture says we have been given a sound mind. Of course we can always fail to utilize what God has given.

Matt. 6:25-34 — “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. . . .”
: We are not to worry. It is not just some simplistic Bible verse. It is the clear instruction of the Lord. It is rooted in the truth that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and will care for us. Worrying makes us like the Gentiles, who have every right to worry, since they have no Father in heaven and they face eternal judgment apart from Christ.

(from PAL V6N3)